The Buffalo AKG Art Museum last week allowed local television station WGRZ an early glimpse of the progress marking its transformation from the respected but comparatively diminutive Albright-Knox Art Gallery into a major institution. “We will be one of the larger art museums dedicated to the art of our time in the United States,” asserted Janne Siren, director of the western New York gallery. “The size of the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The size of [New York’s Solomon R.] Guggenheim [Museum], in terms of our footprint.”
The expansion project, which began construction in late 2019 following a capital campaign that raised $168 million, is expected to reach completion in early 2023 and will likely go over budget by $12 million to $20 million, owing to pandemic-related delays, which pushed the reinvigoration forward by half a year. The campus is being designed by Shohei Shigematsu of global architecture firm OMA and will center around the brand-new Jeffrey Gundlach Building, named for a donor who contributed $65 million to the project. The airy glass-and-steel structure is meant to appear especially inviting to visitors.
“Museums can be somewhat alienating spaces,” Siren explained. “They look like these grand buildings, and people might get the sense of what’s my place and space, what’s my role in that building?” The new structure will rise over an engineered grass lawn occupying the concrete top of a parking garage (formerly the gallery’s parking lot) and serving as a park that will be free to the public. “So when you’re standing on this front lawn and looking into the building,” said Siren, “you’ll see all the activity in there, and when you’re in there, you’ll see all the activity that’s happening in the city.” In keeping with its strong ties to the region, the institution will first open to the community before greeting the wider world.